Reluctant Soccer Dad Leads Way On Plantes Ferry Sports Complex

Gib Brumback once thought soccer was a weenie sport.

Brumback had his own fond memories of football, basketball and baseball. So when his older son, Nick Brumback, hit kindergarten and wanted to play soccer, his dad wanted him to experience “real sports.”

“I spent as much time trying to figure out how to get him out of it as anything,” Brumback admits.

That was then, this is now. Nick the kindergartner is now a junior at West Valley High School, with three other siblings ranging from college age to sixth grade.

And this is the same Gib Brumback who’s spearheading construction of the Plantes Ferry Sports Complex. Within a few years, the complex will offer 14 soccer fields and five softball fields.

What happened to the reluctant soccer dad?

“Well, it’s like anything. The more you get into something, the more you understand it,” Brumback says.

A turning point came when daughter Erin, then a second-grader, and her teammates needed a coach. For the next few years, Brumback, like many a soccer parent, learned on a steep curve, taking workshops and classes to become a knowledgeable coach.

“At one point I coached two teams at once. I got the soccer association to stagger their games.”

Gib’s Girls One and Gib’s Girls Two, they were called.

Several of Gib’s girls, he points out proudly, are now playing varsity soccer at various Valley high schools.

Four years ago, Brumback turned another corner.

“The Spokane Valley has had very inadequate sports facilities,” he said. That’s changing now, but for years practice fields in the Valley have been more precious than diamonds.

As Brumback went to practices, games and soccer meetings, he heard what he describes as nearly constant arguing over fields - embarrassing arguments, at times.

“As the years went by, I got more and more tired of it,” he says.

Coincidentally, Brumback, who is a real estate developer, was invited to attend an early meeting of what has developed into the Mirabeau Point community center. As the meeting closed, he said politely, thanks, but no thanks.

“What I really want to do,” he told others at the meeting, “is work on a sports complex.” As Brumback was leaving the room, he was introduced to Wyn Birkenthal, director of the Spokane County Parks and Recreation Department. “Birkenthal said ‘Are you serious?’ I said, ‘I’m very serious.”’

Within days, Birkenthal told Brumback about 70 acres. Next, the two were out in a four-wheel-drive Jeep, looking over the acreage east of Plantes Ferry Park.

Stuck. In the mud.

“I remember, because Wyn got out to push while I drove,” Brumback said.

It was Brumback’s background in land development - and his tendency to envision the big picture - that gave him the nerve to keep going.

“I wasn’t afraid of developing a sports complex. I had never done it before, but I wasn’t afraid of it.”

Also, Birkenthal knew how to work the system that controls public money for such projects.

“Wyn couldn’t have done it without me. I will say that. But I couldn’t have done it without him either,” Brumback says. He also credits, among others, Dave Gorton and Bill Mazurek.

Now, with phase one of the complex ready to grow grass this year, and funding work under way for the second phase, Brumback forecasts another two years of heavy involvement with the complex.

What with business projects that include a 36-unit development on the South Hill, expansion of a successful set of storage units at Montgomery and Argonne, his plate is full. Make that “their plate.” Although Brumback and his wife, Susan, handle different roles in their family businesses, they’re the ultimate team. He develops, she manages; they both help with the kids.

Might Brumback tackle other civic projects?

“After some time off, I might,” he concedes. The Brumbacks say they’re keenly aware that Spokane has been good to them, that they want to give something back.

Susan describes her husband as a thinker, someone with a political mind.

In fact, if you ask Gib what he does simply for fun, a bewildered look crosses his face. He looks to Susan for help.

“He thinks,” she says, in all seriousness.

“I guess the closest thing I do to recreation is to help Jason (the youngest) with his spelling words in the Jacuzzi,” Brumback says, with a grin.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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